The ELCE’s 69th Annual Synod met over the past two days under the verse from 1 Corinthians 1:9 – God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:9 ESV)
Here are the concluding words of my sermon at the conclusion of Synod as we are about to go back out into the world and to our congregations …
No pastor wants his congregation to decline. No church leader wants his church to fracture and fight, dispute and divide. We know there is a season for every matter under heaven – but, Lord, not on our watch! Please! Keep the sacred cross on the triptychs, visible on the Luther Rose, hung on a wall, something to which the preacher points or help me understand it cognitively – I know sin – but I don’t want to suffer, I don’t want to struggle; I want to remain comfortable that the problems of my church are … those other pastors, that other committee, those troublesome congregations, the zeitgeist, those who attack me. Of course one of the big problems is that I don’t see myself as part of the problem.
We can imagine that the people in the factions at Corinth regarded the others as problems and were not impressed with Chloe’s people ‘dobbing’ them in to Paul. Yet, Paul, as their pastor starts his letter by calling them saints – those in Christ, touched by words, water, bread and wine – and gives thanks to God for his grace given to them so that they lack no spiritual gift so that they will be sustained – and that implies problems, tough times done by them to themselves, done by the world to them – but God is faithful by whom they were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ their Lord.
No matter our structure or how we organise ourselves, no matter our default ecclesiology and view of ministry based on our home experiences, there is a personal dynamic happening – the marks of the Church are there to be seen with the eyes of faith – as God faithfully still – now – tomorrow – always – calls us – uses words – preached and taught Scripture, with water, together with bread and wine, publically and privately to forgive our sins – and so brings us into the fellowship of Jesus. Jesus is faithful to us walking beside us opening the Scriptures to us about himself and leading us in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving – and this journey in this world will not go unhindered or unchallenged by our sinful self or by external forces – that’s reality! – and Jesus looks quizzically at us – the look on our faces is so often surprised, ‘Huh?!, even ‘Why?!’ and he says, ‘Come on, take up your cross and follow me’.
We leave this Synod with work to do. I wasn’t sure what it would be when I wrote this sermon but in one sense it doesn’t matter because we are a Synodical Body with our groups who are linked in Christ through our Lutheran Confessions and who lack no spiritual gifts to sustain us for the work to be done. ‘Come on, take up your cross and follow me’.
Because God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:9 ESV)